'Screaming, crying and rushed to surgery': Mum's button battery warning

Photo:Ashley Mendez/Facebook
Photo:Ashley Mendez/Facebook 

A mum has shared a harrowing account of the night her toddler swallowed a button battery and underwent life-saving surgery, to warn other parents of the dangers.

"The last time I held my 20-month-old son, and saw his eyes open was at 9pm on 3 March as he was taken from my arms screaming and crying," writes Denver mother Ashely Mendez of her son, Adrian, in a post to Facebook.

"It has felt like a lifetime going without his hugs, kisses and hearing his sweet voice. I never imagined how important those little lips and arms meant to me until they were taken away from me."

The family's nightmare began on what was a "normal night".

"My husband was outside grilling burgers while I was cooking food in preparation for the burgers," she writes. "In a split second our night changed as our son knocked on the glass door proudly showing his daddy what he had in his mouth." 

But before Hector Mendez could get to Adrian, their little boy swallowed what they thought was a nickel.

"Being a nurse, I quickly assess my son for signs of choking," Ms Mendez writes. "He was breathing and still pink. He didn't seem to be struggling. He was crying, screaming "quarter, momma!" (He calls all coins quarter). He then begins to gag and vomit intermittently telling me it has not passed through his throat."

The pair rushed their son to emergency where an X-ray showed the coin in the middle of his throat. "Doctors were reassuring about the coin," Ms Mendez continues. " All we needed was for it to be taken out and we'd be able to go home that night. No big deal."

But they soon discovered the situation was far more deadly.


After Adrian underwent a second X-ray at the Children's Hospital, Ms Mendez said the surgeons returned with a "different demeanour". 

"Was there any chance your son had access to a button battery?" they asked.

"Immediately it hit me," Ms Mendez writes. "My food scale. We were weighing our food as we cooked and somehow my son got hold of it and was banging it on the kitchen floor." 

Reality then sunk in for the terrified mum. "This is possibly the worst thing he could have swallowed".

Adrian was rushed to surgery, which the couple was told would take about 15-30 minutes. Instead, it took two hours as surgeons struggled to remove the battery. The little boy was transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) ahead of an MRI to assess the extent of the damage.

"My son is currently in the PICU intubated, on pain meds, antibiotics and sedation," Ms Mendez continues, adding that the MRI results returned on the "better end of the horrible scale".

She also explains exactly what can happen when a little one ingests such a dangerous object.

"The positive end of the battery apparently created a charge with the negative charge in the blood of the vessel behind his esophagus, she writes. "This created a magnet between the battery and blood. The battery began to erode my son's esophagus tissue, leaving him a hole in his throat."

According to Ms Mendez, this "magnet effect" is why surgeons had difficulty removing the button, leading to prolonged exposure and worsening the breakdown of his esophagus. 

"He also has an infection in his chest due to fluids from his mouth and tummy leaking into his chest through his hole, introducing bacteria in a place they should not be," Ms Mendez explains, noting that they do not know when he will be extubated.

"My son's life has changed so much because of this tiny battery," she writes. "He will no longer be able to eat or drink through his mouth until this hole heals." And while her toddler was still breastfeeding, she has been forced to wean him. "It breaks my heart".

"We will be under constant monitoring while in the hospital but as outpatients too, because our journey doesn't end once we leave the hospital," Ms Mendez continues. "We will have continuous ENT follow up appointments to ensure that his scar tissue continues to grow and doesn't end up causing a stricture which would ultimately narrow his esophagus causing him to choke and gag when consuming things."

The mum added that she has chosen to share her baby's story to save other families from enduring the pain her little one is now experiencing. 

"These tiny batteries are in our everyday household items as well as the toys the kids play with," she writes. "Most of us wouldn't think any harm could come from a tiny thing like a button battery but our world couldn't be rocked more because of the tiny thing."

And, according to Ms Mendez, it's not a rare occurrence either. "Children consuming these tiny batteries happens on a daily basis," she says. "I never knew anything could happen quite like this ... not until it actually happened."

Last year, a study published in Pediatrics found that battery ingestions had increased by 150 fold since 1995, representing 86 per cent of foreign body ingestions.

A post shared by CHOICE Australia (@choiceaustralia) on

In Australia, two  children have died after swallowing button batteries, while around one child a month suffers a serious injury.

In 2019, consumer advocacy group CHOICE, released safety tests revealing that button batteries in 10 out of 17 common household items, such as TV remotes and kitchen scales, are easily accessible. 
The issue is compounded by the fact that it can be difficult to determine whether a child has swallowed a battery as symptoms can mimic other illnesses. These include: increasing cough, drooling, vomiting, refusal to feed, bleeding from the gut (red or black vomit or bowel motions), discharge from the eye, ear or nose or a fever.
If you suspect a child has swallowed a button battery, call an ambulance (000 in Australia) or go to your nearest hospital emergency department immediately.
New guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics also recommend giving children honey after an animal study found it reduced injuries following battery ingestion.
"If you have honey at home: Give two teaspoons of honey only for ingestions that occur within 12 hours AND children over 12 months old who can swallow liquids. You can give up to 6 doses of honey about 10 minutes apart. If your child vomits, do NOT offer another dose.
"Do NOT delay transport to hospital to obtain honey. Do NOT give your child anything else to eat or drink. "